Alexander Cockburn Creators Syndicate 09.20.01

Donít give into fear

Panic and indignity are the currency of revenge "America roused to a righteous anger has always been a force for good. States that have been supporting if not Osama bin Laden, people like him, need to feel pain. If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran, or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution." Thus writes Rich Lowry, National Review editor. "Or whatever it takes." How many cities are we supposed to flatten? Is the revenge ratio for our lost 5,000 to be 500,000? Americaís official reaction to this most horrible of crimes, wrought almost entirely against a civilian population, has been of a nature calculated to magnify an already dreadful disaster and further exhilarate the foe. On this point, be instructed by a fine, but sadly rare example. On the morning of Sept. 11, Judge Henry Wood was trying, of all things, an American airline crash damage case in Federal District court in Little Rock, Ark. In the wake of the attacks there were orders to close the courthouse. All obeyed, except Judge Wood, aged 83, who insisted that the jury, lawyers and attendants remain in place. Turning down a plea for mistrial by the defendant, Wood said, "This looks like an intelligent jury to me, and I didnít want the judicial system interrupted by a terrorist act, no matter how horrible." Woodís was the proper reaction. Why on earth close the Minnesota state legislature? If Gov. Jesse Ventura was truly an independent spirit, he would have insisted it remain open. America could do with more of what used to be called the Roman virtues. Why shut the schools and then proclaim counseling sessions in which, presumably, to instruct children that the world can be a bad place? And what is all this foolish talk about "vulnerability" and "a change in the way Americans feel"? A monstrous thing happened in New York, but should this be a cause for a change in national consciousness? Is America so frail? People talk of the trauma of another Pearl Harbor but, truth to say, the trauma in the aftermath of the day of infamy in 1941 was far in excess of what the circumstances warranted, and assiduously fanned by the government for reasons of state. Ask the Japanese Americans who were interned. Why, for that matter, ground all air traffic and semi-paralyze the economy for four days, with further interminable and useless inconveniences promised travelers in the months and possibly years to come? Could any terrorist have hoped not only to bring down the Trade Center towers but also destroy the airline industry? It would have been far better to ask passengers to form popular defense committees on every plane, bring their own food and drink, keep alert for trouble and look after themselves. A properly vigilant democracy in the air. Remember, even if there were no x-ray machines, no searches, no passenger checks, it would still be far more dangerous to drive to the airport than to get on a plane. Martyrdom is hard to beat. In the first few centuries after Christ the Romans tried it against the Christians, whose martyrdoms were almost entirely sacrificial of themselves, not of others. The lust for heaven of a Muslim intent on suicidal martyrdom was surely never so eloquent as that of St. Ignatius in the second century, who, under sentence of death, doomed to the Roman amphitheater and a hungry lion, wrote in his Epistle to the Romans: "I bid all men know that of my own free will I die for God, unless ye should hinder me ... Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am Godís wheat, and I am ground by the wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Entice the wild beasts that they may become my sepulcher ... Come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body; only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ." Eventually, haughty imperial Rome made its accommodation with Christians, just as Christians amid the furies and martyrdoms and proscriptions of the Reformation, made accommodations with each other. What sort of accommodation should America make right now? How about one with the history of the past one hundred years, in an effort to improve the moral world climate of the next one hundred years? I use the word accommodation in the sense of an effort to get to grips with history, as inflicted by the powerful upon the weak. We have been miserably failed by our national media here, as Jude Wanniski, political economist and agitator of conventional thinking, remarked in the course of a well-merited attack on "bipartisanship," which almost always means obdurate determination to pursue a course of collective folly without debate: "It is because of this bipartisanship that our press corps has become blind to the evil acts we commit as a nation." A great nation does not respond to a single hour of terrible mayhem in two cities by hog-tying itself with new repressive laws and abuses of constitutional freedoms, like Gulliver doing the work of the Lilliputians and lashing himself to the ground with a thousand cords. Nor does it demean itself with mad talk of firing off tactical nuclear weapons at puny foes like bin Laden, himself assisted onto the stage of history by the Central Intelligence Agency. A great nation reflects carefully, takes prudent measures, reassesses the risks to which it has exposed its citizens by previous policies that may have been foolish. America has great enemies circling the campfires and threatening the public good. They were rampant the day before the Sept. 11 attacks, with the prospect of deflation, sated world markets, idled capacity, shrinking social services. Is ranting about Kabul, attacking the Bill of Rights and throwing money at the Pentagon the best way forward?